Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM

Essentials - Week 6

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Arizona at Minnesota (-10/44), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Cardinals picked up the first victory of the Steve Wilks/Josh Rosen era last weekend in Santa Clara, scoring a season-high 28 points. Arizona’s output in a 10-point win over the 49ers is misleading since they scored on a 23-yard fumble return to really swing a tight game and then capitalized on a short field for the second time to put the game away. The only offensive score that finished off a drive of over 26 yards came on a 75-yard pass from Rosen to fellow rookie Christian Kirk, so it remains to be seen whether this group can string together sustained possessions on the road against Minnesota. It won’t help if tackle Andrew Smith (shoulder/elbow) and guard Mike Iupati are unable to go after missing practice time this week, but both guys are expected to be in the mix despite being listed as ‘questionable.’

It’s been a challenging first few weeks for a Vikings defense that has given up big plays in unexpectedly getting carved up by a banged-up Aaron Rodgers and Jared Goff in addition to being run over by rookie Josh Allen. Last week’s win over the Eagles featured their best performance despite surrendering a pair of long fourth-quarter drives, but they did hold the defending champs to just a pair of field goals for three quarters. Minnesota has missed DE Everson Griffen (mental issues) and won’t have safety Andrew Sendejo in this one, but there are enough pieces in place to expect a strong performance at home. QB Kirk Cousins has completed 141 passes over his last four games, throwing for an average of 361 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s earning his money so far, but needs to be wary of not letting Patrick Peterson make an impact. The Vikings lost their only game as a double-digit favorite outright against Buffalo and are 2-1 SU, 1-2 ATS in this role as heavy chalk over the past season-plus. RB Dalvin Cook is likely to play despite the hamstring injury that has limited him the past few weeks, but tackle Riley Reiff will be unable to play. The Chargers have won four of six against Cleveland but failed to cover in any of the games, last doing so in 2004.

L.A. Chargers at Cleveland (-1.5/47), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Browns have won multiple games in a season for the first time since 2015 and can match that season’s win total with a victory here, but what is even more impressive is that they’ve been in position to win in every fourth quarter, either up or driving for a game-winning score. Cleveland seeks out consecutive wins for the first time since November 2014 after squandering a late lead in Oakland to close September in their first opportunity to string together victories. Rookie No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield threw for 342 yards last week and faces a Chargers defense still without top DE Joey Bosa. Corey Liuget did return for L.A. last week to help upgrade the level of play on the defensive front and helped hold the Raiders to just 10 points. This game's biggest question mark surrounds the availability of Chargers tackles Russell Okung and Joe Barksdale, who are expected to play despite being listed as game-time decisions.

The Chargers will be playing outside California for only the second time this season, having won in Buffalo on Sept. 15. L.A. is averaging 27.4 points per game and is looking to put together a three-game winning streak that would improve them to 10-3 over their last 13 regular-season games. Philip Rivers has a 13-2 TD-INT ration thus far this season that will be tested by a defense that leads the NFL with 15 takeaways. For all the credit Mayfield is rightfully getting, safety Denzel Ward has been their most impactful rookie. He had an interception and blocked a field goal last week and has a forced fumble, a recovery and three picks on an impressive ever-growing resume. Terrance Mitchell remains sidelined by a broken wrist, so the Browns will need E.J. Gaines to continue stepping up as a starter in a rebuilt secondary that is entrusted with a lot considering how often the defense brings the blitz. Rivers has been pressured 49 times thus far and has a completion percentage of nearly 70 percent with four TDs and no INTs when facing heat, building up an NFL-high QB rating of 128.8 when under pressure. After temperatures dipped into the upper 30s overnight, both teams will be treated to a clear day with perfect fall football conditions come kickoff.

Chicago (-4/41.5) at Miami, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: At one point, it appeared inevitable that Adam Gase would be in the position Matt Nagy currently holds with the Bears, being lauded for their revival in part due to his offensive ingenuity. After putting in a solid year of work as offensive coordinator in Chicago under John Fox, the Dolphins hired him. He immediately reached the playoffs and is now looking to pick up where he left off in ’16 with Ryan Tannehill back under center. Unfortunately, Tannehill (shoulder) is unlikely to play this week, unable to heal up enough for Week 6. Brock Osweiler is expected to start. Nagy, who replaced Gase’s former boss, is having similar first-year success in overseeing Mitch Trubisky’s improvement, so there are a lot of similarities despite these teams playing in separate conferences and running into one another only every four years. Both employ creative offensive systems reliant on speed, blocking and clever schemes, so the team that executes best is likely to thrive here. The Bears beat the Cards as a road favorite earlier this season but didn't cover and haven't been in this position multiple times in the same season since 2013.

Thunderstorms are in the forecast but may come later in the day, which means they’ll get this one in under humid conditions with temperatures in the high 80s. That may be more of an adjustment for the Bears, but coming in off a bye should aid their cause. The time off has allowed corner Prince Amukamara and rookie WR Anthony Miller to get healthy, so Chicago has that advantage over a Dolphins team that will again be missing pass rusher Cameron Wake and may again be without WR DeVante Parker. Guard Laremy Tunsil (conucission) will be out there to try and help Miami snap a two-game losing streak by protecting whoever lines up under center. The Bears defense has surrendered just 13.7 points during their current three-game winning streak and lead NFL in sacks per game (4.5) with Khalil Mack imposing his will. Tannehill has been sacked 11 times and would be extremely vulnerable if Tunsil suffers a setback. His backup, Sam Young, flopped miserably in Cincinnati and was cut, so swing tackle Zach Sterup would have to play if Tunsil is unable to.

Carolina at Washington (-1/44.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Grahama Gano’s 63-yard field goad to beat the Giants prevented this past week around the Panthers’ facility from being awful. In blowing a double-digit fourth-quarter lead to New York, Carolina put itself in position to heed warnings and refocus all week without suffering any of the sting of actually losing. Meanwhile, the ‘Skins are facing a short-week situation after losing in New Orleans on Monday but can exit Week 6 with the NFC East lead with a victory here. The spotlight is on former Panthers star corner Josh Norman in the D.C. area since he’s gotten sliced up and reportedly got benched by head coach Jay Gruden after refusing to take off headphones at halftime of the Saints loss, so we’ll see whether Cam Newton will be able to make his week even worse.

Newton has thrown for multiple touchdowns in each of the last three games and has run for three scores on the season, so not having a true No. 1 receiver hasn’t derailed him thus far. He’s expected to get top target Greg Olsen back after missing the last few weeks with a broken foot. Defensively, the Panthers are also getting closer to full strength with LB Thomas Davis’ suspension over and DT Kawann Short set to play following an ankle injury. Carolina is looking to extend its winning streak over the ‘Skins to six, last losing at FedEx Field back in ’06. Alex Smith beat the Packers last time he was in front of his new team’s fans at home but played terribly against the Saints and could get irrevocable proof that the natives are restless if he struggles here since they seem ready to boo him. It doesn’t help his cause that RB Chris Thompson has already been ruled out, removing one of his favorite and most effective check-down options. WRs Jamison Crowder (ankle), Paul Richardson (knee) and Josh Doctson (head) all have injury concerns to be aware of and late word is Crowder is doubtful to play. RB Adrian Peterson (shoulder) is likely to be in for a heavy workload as long as Washington can hang around.

Indianapolis at N.Y. Jets (-2.5/47.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Jets are in the unfamiliar position of favorite for the second time this season and are hoping to handle the role with more success than they did in losing their Week 2 home opener against Miami. Not only does form play a large role in the spread, but also health, since the Colts feature one of the NFL’s longest injury reports. Starting guard Matt Slauson is the latest lineman ruled out, while center Ryan Kelly is a huge question mark. Safety Clayton Geathers remains out, one of a number of defensive catalysts that won’t participate for Indy, while WR T.Y. Hilton is considered doubtful due to a hamstring issue. As a result, Andrew Luck is playing with a lot of inexperience surrounding him on that side of the ball.

New York rookie Sam Darnold has benefited by continuity on an offense that hasn’t faced the same health-related obstacles as Indy. RB Isaiah Crowell, one of the key cogs in their early success in handling carries in tandem with Bilal Powell, has been upgraded to probable despite an ankle issue. He ranks third in the NFL is yards from scrimmage. The Jets will be without corner Trumaine Johnson (quad) and fellow DB Buster Skrine (concussion), so their secondary depth will be suspect in this one. New York has covered in eight of its last 11 home games.

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (-1.5/51), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Steelers CB Joe Haden may be in a different uniform than the one he wore for years with the Browns, but the division remains the same. Although he no longer has to cover Antonio Brown, the challenge of dealing with A.J. Green remains and should play a critical role in this one. Andy Dalton has gone to his top target when it has mattered most despite looking to spread the ball out among receivers better, resulting in the emergence of No. 2 wideout Tyler Boyd. The Steelers defense comes off an impressive performance against the Falcons and will be looking to slow a Cincy attack that rallied for a turnover-driven 27-17 win over the Dolphins last week and has managed to top the 30-point mark in three of 2018’s five games.

Pittsburgh remains reliant on James Conner for to handle running back duties for another week before Le’Veon Bell is back following next week’s bye, so he’ll be looking to leave a lasting impression to try and keep at least some share of the workload. Cincinnati got RB Joe Mixon back last week and watched him pick up 115 yards of offense, supplying juice that Giovani Bernard simply couldn’t when Mixon absent. The Steelers have won eight of nine in the series, including the last five over their AFC North rival. They’ve won four straight in Cincy, last losing in 2013, and have averaged 30.5 points in the victories. Both teams come into this game relatively healthy, with few new injuries popping up last week. Pittsburgh remains without safety Morgan Burnett while Cincy has lost TE Tyler Eifert for the season and won’t get back speedster John Ross, who remains out with a groin injury. Light rain is in the forecast all afternoon but shouldn’t play too much of a role.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-3/57), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Jameis Winston returns to his role as the unquestioned starter after serving out his suspension and sitting behind Ryan Fitzpatrick for a disastrous half in a lopsided loss to Chicago. The former No. 1 pick finished out the 48-10 loss to the Bears and took first-team reps during the bye week, so he’ll be good to go here as he tries to pick up where Ben Roethlisberger left off in torching the Falcons’ depleted defense. DT Grady Jarrett remains sidelined for Atlanta, which combined with a depleted secondary and the loss of top LB Deion Jones in Week 1, has really left its group exposed. New Orleans, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have combined to average over 40 points per game in handing Dan Quinn’s group their last three losses.

Matt Ryan has been inconsistent in attempting to have the offense make up for the defense’s deficiencies but will give the Falcons their best chance to win since he’s been cleared to participate despite a minor foot injury. RB Devonta Freeman is out again following a brief return to the lineup, so the Bucs will have to deal with backups Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith, who have done a nice job filling in. Despite all the attrition, Atlanta is at home and favored to defeat Tampa Bay for a fourth straight time. The Bucs’ last win in this series came at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to open the 2016 season.

Seattle (-3/48) at Oakland, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: This game will be played in London’s Wembley Stadium, so there will be no Black Hole for Russell Wilson to be concerned with. What will trouble him is the potential lack of a tight end, a staple in a Wilson-run offense, since preferred target Will Dissly injured a knee to open the month and backup Nick Vannett is listed as questionable with a knee injury. Tyrone Swopes has been promoted from the practice squad and will play in London, so that could be one challenge the Seahawks will have to overcome. Another could be rain, which Seattle would obviously be used to given its climate and the fact it has played a couple of games dealing with inclement weather already this season. Wind will also be a factor across the pond.

The Raiders were held to a season-low 10 points by the Chargers last week and could be down multiple starting offensive linemen with guard Kelechi Osemele listed as doubtful. Oakland missed him last week and is already down tackle Donald Penn. Combined with an inability to generate pressure without sending multiple blitzers, Jon Gruden isn’t getting a lot from the team he inherited and won’t benefit from being the “home” team here. Wilson has been sacked 18 times this season since he lets plays develop, often buying time for them, and has a suspect offensive line himself, so if the Raiders can’t get to him, they’re at risk of getting embarrassed overseas. One way to counter being put at a disadvantage is to feed Marshawn Lynch and work the clock, so that could be a strategy in this one, potentially combining with the weather to deliver on the low-side of the posted total.

L.A. Rams (-7/51) at Denver, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: - The Rams will have to deal with one of the league’s premier pass rushers in Von Miller, but the element that may slow them down most could be snow. The fast-paced offense that has empowered Jared Goff and produced more than 30 points in all five of the team’s wins this season will have to deal with the elements in Denver, where it has been snowing off and on overnight and should feature a steady sprinkling of Santa’s salt throughout this contest.

Fortunately for the L.A., it will get back Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp after both left last week’s game with concussions, so the Broncos’ secondary should still be tested considering winds aren’t expected to compliment the snow flurries. After getting carved up by the Jets in New York, count on the Broncos being locked in to keep from getting embarrassed at Mile High. Keep in mind that this team has done their best work there, beating the Seahawks and Raiders to open the season 2-0 and losing to the Chiefs late in a game that they led throughout. Denver’s defense held Kansas City to a season-low 27 points in that Monday night loss, so there’s certainly proof that this unit can still step up and being a factor on that side of the ball despite losing Aqib Talib. Replacement Adam Jones (leg) has been ruled out for this one, but the secondary does get Darian Stewart (foot) and Tramaine Brock (groin) in the mix to deal with an offense that has produced an ‘over’ in each of their last three wins.

Jacksonville (-3/40) at Dallas, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: The Cowboys follow up their disappointing overtime loss at Houston by hosting the Jaguars in a game that carries high stakes since a loss would drop them to 2-4, which even in a wide open and disappointing NFC East, puts their hopes of serious playoff contention in doubt. Owner/GM Jerry Jones criticized Jason Garrett’s decision to punt and not gamble on 4th down in OT but gave him the vote of confidence later in the week, so it’s anyone’s guess whether the long-time Cowboys coach and former backup QB would keep his job on Monday if things go poorly here.

Dallas won’t have to deal with Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette, who remains sidelined by a hamstring injury. Blake Bortles threw for 430 yards in last week’s loss in Kansas City but ended up being picked up four times as the Chiefs employed a strategy of dropping defenders into coverage and forcing Bortles to make throws to beat them, resulting in numerous red zone stops. The Cowboys won’t have top LB Sean Lee in the mix to help them effectively execute a similar look, but are likely to have Demarcus Lawrence in the mix in addition to David Irving. Defensive end Randy Gregory and DT Maliek Collins are question marks, so the front seven is likely to be led by emerging backup linebacker Jaylon Smith and rookie first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch. The 'under' has prevailed in eight of the Cowboys' last nine games and is 3-2 in Jags' contests.

Baltimore (-2.5/43) at Tennessee, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: The Ravens had no one to blame but themselves in losing to the Browns, a statement that takes nothing away from how improved Cleveland looks. Joe Flacco played his worst game of a resurgent season and left a number of throws out there, wasting an excellent effort from a defense that has emerged as one of the NFL’s best, allowing just 12.3 points over the last three games. We’ll see if they can continue executing n that side of the ball despite a few injuries in the secondary, but they’re playing the right team for that in these Titans.

Due to Marcus Mariota’s elbow issues, he’s not looking to throw the ball down the field, although the speed and ability of last year’s top pick, Corey Davis, still produces a threat who must be respected. Getting tackle Taylor Lewan in the mix to help protect Mariota provides a boost, especially given how effectively the Ravens have been able to pressure QBs to date. Tennessee’s defense remains without safety Kenny Vaccaro (elbow), won’t have LB Will Compton (hamstring) and lists DT Bennie Logan (elbow) and LB Wesley Woodyard (shoulder) as game-time decisions. Rain is likely to impact this contest too.

Kansas City at New England (-3.5/59.5), 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC: This is being billed as battle between QBs Tom Brady and the emerging Pat Mahomes or as a summit meeting between elite tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce, so few are mentioning what will ultimately decide this shootout. Since both teams are capable of producing big plays through the air, it’s the ability of both defenses to get off the field and minimize damage that should produce results here. To that end, one can understand why the Patriots are favored. It’s more complicated than simply coming out of the home locker room at Gillette Stadium.

Justin Houston, one of the top pass rushers in the game, is doubtful with a hamstring issue that should have Brady breathing a sign of relief. Safety Eric Berry is also unlikely to play, while versatile DB Eric Murray is also out. Rookie safety Armani Watts is questionable with a groin injury and will be a game-time decision, so an untested patchwork group will be out there in the Chiefs secondary attempting to keep Brady from carving them up. The Patriots list corner Eric Rowe as questionable in addition to DT Danny Shelton, Geneo Grissom and DE John Simon, but all those guys should play. Temperatures are expected to dip into the low 40s, but wind won’t stand in the way of a shootout if neither defense does.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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